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Puzzah! brings the room escape concept off the screen and into reality

Downtown Denver's got a new private eye, you! If you've ever wandered into one of those 'room escape' games on the Internet, you'll get the basic idea behind the "Tick Tock" room at Puzzah!, except for one big twist -- you're in the puzzle and it's not online. It's the first interactive puzzle for the recently launched startup and an interesting way to experience a game.

The puzzle in this case is trying to dismantle a bomb set by a composer driven insane by rejections from the Denver Performing Arts Center. Players work together as a team, to solve puzzles that engage them mentally and physically, primarily through audible clues. They have 60 minutes to stop the bomb, before ker-plooyee! or before they make a mistake that ends in ker-plooyee! (Confluence Denver's crack team of detectives ker-plooyeed, by the way.) 

While the whole experience is unique, what's just as interesting is the technology behind it. Designed by the Puzzah! team, the software actually adjusts the game room -- don't worry, it's not an Orwellian mechano-nightmare of a room -- to the players' abilities, offering more or fewer clues based on their ability to solve the puzzles.

Puzzah! is aiming the interactive puzzles as fun way to work together with friends, family and coworkers to develop problem solving skills and engage in team building exercises. The puzzles are designed to hold up to five adults. Currently the company only has one game room, but its second room, "The Steal," already is under construction. What exactly it's about is still a mystery.

Puzzah! also has a small gift shop and waiting room in the front where people can check out and purchase other puzzles. They include classics like Rubik's Cubes and nail puzzles.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Green Machine, an automated grow room system, funded through Kickstarter

Grow rooms, even personal grow rooms, for growing marijuana and other crops hydroponically indoors are expensive and can require a lot of attention.

A recently fully-funded Kickstarter project "How to Grow the Greenest Green" is a 14-week educational program that uses videos to show people how to build a grow room for about $600.

Similarly sized home grow kits -- about the size of a closet -- run for more than $2,000 and don’t include an educational component that guides users through the process of not only building the device, but using it to grow marijuana and other plants

Lucas Powell and Ryan Woltz say they developed the system and guides after finding scant information about developing home-based grow rooms for marijuana, even though it’s now legal in Colorado and other some other states. Best thing is the video-guided  courses and PDFs only cost $30 and it shows DIYers how to construct and build a fully automated system that interacts with smartphones.

"The technology aspect of our project is that we're teaching people how to turn a traditional cannabis home grow into an 'Internet of Things' connected device," Powell says.

The automated device is controlled by an Arduino computer and various sensors help monitor the plants growing in the closet-sized box. "Not only has a course like this never been offered before but this is actually the first marijuana cultivation course that has ever been put on Kickstarter," he adds.

Though the project already is fully funded already, people can participate in the Kickstarter before Jan. 6, 2015. In addition to the basic instructions, people can also get the Master Grower instructions, which includes more information about more advanced growing and automation techniques.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Booming OneReach melds calls and texts for customer service

Customer service is a pain point for customers and companies alike. In response, Denver's OneReach offers a tool that allows companies to interact with their customers via SMS and call center.

"We've built a web application that makes it very easy for companies to create any sort of custom SMS or call in solutions whether it's inbound or outbound," explains OneReach Managing Partner Elias Parker. The tool makes it easier to integrate Twilio, the engine behind Uber's ability to connect riders with drivers. "It's a development platform that makes it easier to custom code any text messaging solutions," Parker says.

"OneReach is an end-user solution that allows companies to create those same types of custom text message solutions without writing them," Parker says. "We're thought of as the Twillio UI."

As positive reviews of its services and bigger clients have come in, the four-year-old company has realized faster growth. Parker says it grew by 34 percent in the past year, swelling to 27 employees at its new office in Sunnyside.

"We just moved a month ago," he says. "We were in Galvanize in a private office. For at least half of it we were sitting on each other. We would have to ask people to work from home and have people working out of the common space because it was so full."

With service packages starting at $22 a month the company has a wide range of clients, including National Geographic, United Nations World Food Program and Re/Max. "Some clients are really small, some are huge," says Parker. "They range from a small chain of coffee shops in Denver to a massive company that has thousands of customer support people."

The company is also looking ahead to the next steps. "In the future, hopefully in the near-term road map, we'll releasing a more mobile-friendly solution but for the time being it's accessed via a web browser on laptop or desktop," Parker says.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Jiberish gets technical with Grand Cru outerwear line

Denver's Jiberish has entered into a new market for the urban/extreme-skiing garment startup company—technical outerwear. Earlier this fall the company introduced its Grand Cru line.

The new line starts at $275 for The Corton, an extended-length, insulated shirt that's also comes as a button-out layer for the company's $850 flagship coat, The La Tache. The line of five coats embodies a look that's home in the city and on the slopes.

For  example,The La Tache is a waterproof, 3-in-1 jacket that can be worn with The Corton or each piece separately. The company calls it "a clean, minimalist jacket with no zippers visible on the exterior." It's easy to see how Jiberish is trying to balance function with fashion. 

The company, which formerly produced its clothes in Denver, has moved production overseas. That's particularly important as the company moves into more technical clothing as most garment manufacturers in the U.S. can handle basic manufacturing but much of the more technical manufacturing processes and fabrics are harder to find domestically. The company sources technical fabrics from Switzerland, Japan and elsewhere.

The new line is already available online and is making its way into some of Jiberish's retail partners as well as its own stores in Boston, Denver and Park City, Utah.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

gSchool offers $500 for student referrals

The need for software engineers and programmers is so great in Denver that Galvanize's gSchool is offering a $500 finding fee to those that refer a friend or colleague to its advanced, immersive Golang Microservices (Go) class that's set to start Jan. 26, 2015. The 12-week program isn't cheap -- it's $15,000 -- but gSchool claims the program boasts a post-graduation hiring rate of 99 percent.

Referring someone alone isn't enough to reap the rewards. The referrals must be accepted into the course for the referrer to receive the $500. To qualify for the program applicants must have an advanced knowledge of coding.

"Unlike other gSchool immersive courses where we teach our students how to code, the Golang Microservices course expects students to arrive already knowing how to code, allowing for a more compact 12-week course," the organization explains on its website.

The course is designed to teach developers and engineers how to write software with a microservice architecture used by companies like Google, Docker, SendGrid, Pivotal and more. gSchool explains that Go is a newer, general purpose programming language that takes advantage of multi-core computing, which is making it a coding language of choice for many companies.

The school is offering 3 Colorado classes that start in January 2015. In addition to the Golang class in Denver it's offering 24-week full stack development classes in Denver and Boulder at Galvanize locations. The school is offering one full merit-based scholarship worth up to $20,000. It will also offer several partial scholarships for minorities, veterans and women worth up to $5,000.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Denver's COjacks offer alternative currency for gifts

COjacks, the Denver-based, Colorado-centric currency that launched late this summer, will be accepted along with U.S currency at the Community Connect Trade Association and Main Street Chamber of West Denver's Holiday Trade Show and Event at SPACE Gallery at 400 Santa Fe Dr. on Thurs. Nov. 20 from 4 to 8 p.m.

"The event is about 50 percent trade and 50 percent cash," explains Jaime Cangemi, chief marketing officer for the Main Street Chamber in Denver. Cangemi says she expects about 50 vendors and 500 buyers.

Instead of being confined to cash, however, the event allows people to barter or trade for locally made goods. It's also an ideal opportunity for an alternative currency like COjacks. "Their hope is for us to roll it out to the Community Connect Trade members there," Cangemi says.

Consumers can get COjacks at an introductory rate of five for $4. The retailers that accept COjacks, among them Backstage Coffee and The GrowHaus accept them at a rate equivalent to a dollar.

"It's all about the independent businesses," Cangemi explains. "The concept is if you were a retail shop and I bought something with COjacks and you then have COjacks in possession you cannot come back to the COjacks office to trade it for cash so you'll go out and find a member of COjacks you can spend it with. That's where the dollar going further makes sense."

Pro-level businesses that accept COjacks for 30 percent or more of a customer's purchase can receive three COjacks for every $1 they choose to exchange for COjacks. Businesses that accept 10 percent of a sale in COjacks can exchange $1 for two COjacks. Since they can't trade them back for U.S. dollars, the accepting retailers must spend them with other participating retailers.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Comcast VIPER set to grow in Denver as video goes mobile

There's somebody making sure cable TV is watchable on tablets and smartphone, and that person might just be in downtown Denver working at Comcast VIPER (Video Internet Protocol Engineering & Research), a company within the company that's making the digital world more seamless.

"We make sure that video is ready to play on anything outside a set-top box," explains Elizabeth Perlmuter, VIPER recruiter. 

The Comcast unit, which Perlmuter says operates like a startup within Comcast, also provides alternate content and big data services as well. "Our office looks very different than any other Comcast office out there," she says. "Denver is a great community for this type of atmosphere."

That's just one of the reasons the division is located in Denver. Another is location. "We're optimally placed in the United States to handle a lot of video," explains software engineer Neill Kipp."If you're on the East Coast you have a satellite overhead that reaches to Denver and if you're on the West Coast there's a satellite overhead that reaches to Denver. So we're able to uplink and downlink from both East and West Coast satellites." He also points to Denver's proximity CableLabs, an nonprofit R&D consortium for the cable industry in Louisville.

Perlmuter says the company now has 60 to 70 full time employees in Denver and up to 40 contractors across the country. She adds that the company anticipates hiring on 41 more employees in 2015, primarily software engineers. She's currently posting some positions at the Colorado Technology Association's jobs board but also has a Stack Overflow page here.

The company works with Java, C++ and Golang, Perlmuter says. "We're building the new technologies that Comcast is going to use in the IP video world."

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Gaijin 24886 brewing sake in Denver

Gaijin 24886 is brewing up its first batch of sake in Denver. The alcoholic rice beverage has made inroads into the U.S. through sushi restaurants, and Texas and Oregon operations have brought sake brewing stateside, but the company is the only one currently commercially brewing the Japanese beverage in Colorado. The company's first batch should be ready by about mid-December.

Co-owner and Master Brewer Marc Hughes used his employee identification number in Osaka, Japan, gaijin 24886, as the name for the brewery. He explains that 'gaijin' means foreigner.

"It started off as a hobby and I wanted to do something different," Hughes says. "Everybody else was making beer and all of the distilled spirits are explosive." He used snow from Leadville and other places, as well as ingredients like peach and cherry blossoms in his home brews. His friends and family enjoyed his homebrewed sake enough that he and co-owner Keith Kemp chose to take it to the next level and began brewing at Grandma's House Brewery on South Broadway earlier this year.

Though sake is a brewed beverage as opposed to a distilled spirit, Hughes likens the process to lagering rather than the traditional fermenting used for most beers, which means it takes longer to ferment because it's done at lower temperatures. For sake, that means more than a month of fermenting and conditioning. The process also allows for a higher alcohol content. "The alcohol content is anywhere in between 14 and 20 percent," he says.

Still the company is facing some initial hurdles. Sake is currently classified more like a wine although it's brewed like a beer. That means that it can't be sold alongside beers at Grandma's House, according to Hughes. "I don't know why it's that way. It just is," he says. However, Hughes and Kemp are exploring their options and talking with local retails and restaurants about stocking its beverages.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

CLIMB helps Ivy League students intern with Denver companies

CLIMB (Colorado Leaders, Interns and Mentors in Business), a program developed and run on a volunteer basis by alumni of Ivy League schools, is celebrating its 10th year this fall. The internship program helps students from Yale, Middlebury, MIT, Stanford, Brown and Harvard get internships in Denver.

"We thought students should have more options than just California in terms of careers," says CLIMB President Micah Gurard-Levin, a volunteer for the program who works at Liberty Global. He was also an intern in the program in 2008. "We thought that bringing students to Denver would be a great way to showcase what Denver had to offer in terms of lifestyles and companies that are here."

"In 10 years, we've had about 15 students move here full time," Gurard-Levin says. He explains that some of the students in the program are first year student and not set on their career path, others may change their careers as they go forward in school.

"College students benefit from all sorts of career development opportunities to explore things they like or may end up not liking," adds Gurard-Levin, contending it's important for the students. "The second piece is helping companies in Colorado attract new talent to their companies and helping them expand beyond the relationships they already have with the some of the great schools that are here in Denver and in Colorado."

The program, which is now seeking companies to place interns with for summer 2015, according to Gurard-Levin. It has expanded with new companies and has even worked with startups operating out of Galvanize. "We realize the growth in the startup industry here in Denver and its a great fit. Grads and college students are really excited about entrepreneurialism and they want to be joining companies that have a great culture and are doing exciting things. We also work with large companies and nonprofits and medical and science research as well."

Interns in the CLIMB program stay in a dorm together. The $3,000 internships, including housing, are paid for by the sponsoring companies, according to Gurard-Levin. During their stay from May to August, they have a chance to be mentored, learn from guest speakers and go out and enjoy Colorado's outdoor activities like hiking and rafting.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Denver encourages software industry growth with updated tax guide

Denver's tech sector is hot, with virtually no unemployment. So it's no wonder that Denver is encouraging more tech companies and tech job seekers to move to Denver in any way it can.

On Nov. 5 Denver issued an updated tax guide that specifically addresses the city's sales and use tax on data processing programs in many areas, including software. The updated tax code was designed with the input of the Colorado Technology Association and other stakeholders to help encourage more IT companies to locate in Denver.

"We did a lot of active listening and quickly discovered a lack of clarity in terms of tax issues related to software," says Mayor Michael Hancock said. Much of the issues were related to the rapidly changing software industry, which now includes cloud computing and app development.

"Our culture of ingenuity provides people the opportunity to turn concepts into reality," Hancock explains. "This new guide gives a clearer picture for our software firms and business community, enabling them to continue their successful growth here in Denver."

"While the updated tax guide does not change the city's tax policy, it does provide a deeper understanding of the imposition of the city's sales and use tax on the purchase price or charge for data processing programs," says Cary Kennedy, Denver CFO. "The guide clarifies when a taxable event occurs, and it contains several new hypothetical software development examples."

To explain and discuss the changes CTA and the city are hosting a town hall meeting Nov. 17 at 1:15 p.m. at INDUSTRY, 3000 Brighton Blvd.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

MapQuest growing in Denver with Commute app

Denver-based MapQuest is forging a new path with a highly-ranked mobile app, Commute, and is on the road to create new jobs.

Released in September, the Commute app for iOS, Android and Windows devices from the first Internet mapping company was born out of a 24-hour hackathon. It uses real-time traffic data and push messages to help people better plan their travel routes -- even during rush hour.

"We had come up with this idea of how we could get more activity with our navigation app," explains MapQuest General Manager Brian McMahon. "It gives proactive notifications for your daily commute."

Commute also lets users know when they'll arrive at their destination based on their commuting patterns and traffic information along with road and weather conditions. In the newest iOS 8 version, it also offers users alternate routes when traffic is bad.

MapQuest has also made a strong push into content creation in recent years. It recently developed a Major League Baseball stadium guide and integrated with Yelp in 2010.

Those moves are help setting the company up for future growth in Denver. Since 2012, the company has brought on 30 new employees bringing its total to more than 110 employees, about 65 of them in Denver.

"We're having great luck [hiring in Denver]," McMahon says. "The level of talent we're getting here is phenomenal."

The company will hire 20 more employees in Denver in the near future, he adds. McMahon says MapQuest will continue to invest in its free navigation apps, and also recently launched an enhanced voice guide and alternate route features in its navigation apps.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Denver to hold IT jobs fair Oct. 30

The Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) is holding "Denver's Tech Talent: Meeting Tomorrow's Needs," a free industry forum and job fair, on Thurs. Oct. 30 to help match talent with talent seekers. OED is holding the event at the ICOSA Media offices at 4100 Jackson St. Registration and networking begin at 8 a.m.

More than 20 IT companies will be at the job fair looking for new potential hires, says Derek Woodbury, OED spokesperson. Employers participating in the job fair will include NIMBL, RTL Networks, iTriage, NexusTek, Time Warner Cable, Live Consulting, Skybridge Infotech and Raymond James Financial.

"Denver's IT workforce of more than 17,000 is expected to expand to nearly 20,000 within the next two years, and even the most conservative estimates place average earnings per job at $114,000," said OED Workforce Development Director Denise Bryant. "Along with healthcare and advanced manufacturing, technology is a critical industry of focus for us. Our goal is to identify the rapidly evolving skills that jobseekers need, improve our workforce training to match marketplace demands, and continue to attract the top talent to Denver."

The morning will kick off at 9 a.m. with a panel discussion about what IT companies are looking for in potential hires. "We'll have three Gazelles on an awesome panel to start out in the morning," Woodbury says. The Gazelles are companies the OED has identified during Denver Startup Week as some of the fastest-growing startups in Denver. The panel will include executives from NIMBL and RTL Networks.

Job-seekers can register for the free event here. Industry employers interested in participating in the job fair should contact richard.marr@denvergov.org.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

WF aims to unleash smart dog collar

With the introduction of the Apple Watch and a host of other smart watches that are already on the shelves, the idea of smart, wearable technology is heating up, and not just for humans. Now dogs are getting wearable tech, too.

Technologically advanced dog collars already exist and allow owners to communicate or track their pups with GPS. WÜF is aiming introduce a new smart collar that includes a variety of different sensors to help train dogs -- and their owners -- to be better pals. The company, split between Denver and Boulder's Galvanize locations, is testing its third-generation prototype and plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in November to move toward introducing the new Colorado-made smart collar.

"We want to help all dog owners to be better dog owners," says WÜF CEO Sean Kelly. "That's training the human and training the dog." He explains that WÜF takes a different approach to training dogs.

The collar offers two-way communications as well as vibration to help train dogs, but instead of being like a normal training class WÜF has adopted a gamified approach based on Duolingo-style training. "With the voice commands it starts off with you, the phone and dog." As well as with basic commands like sit and stay. But users can up the training or purchase additional training packages.

"The beauty comes in when your dog knows the command and then when you're at work that command comes out automatically from the collar because the collar detected that he's jumping inside the house and you don't want him to do that," Kelly says. "Automatically, 'No, down' comes out of the collar and you're training the dog -- even when you're not with the dog, which is something we're really excited about."

The collar will also allow the owner to track the dog. "We're looking at some new technologies," Kelly says, including an alternative to GPS that allows for communication in a roughly 50-mile radius. "It would remove the need for Wi-Fi and GSM and allow it to connect, with the owner," he says. It also means that users don't have to subscribe to a service to keep the device communicating.

Though the company got its start at Galvanize in Boulder, it has added Denver as a second location. "We like the opportunities that both cities present, so ideally we'll look to maintain a presence in both cities," Kelly says.

Boulder will likely remain the company's production facility, explains Lizelle van Vuuren, WÜF's chief marketing officer. "Denver will be its sales and marketing, as well as business development office."

Right now, the company is focused on building interest in the devices. "We're planning to launch the Kickstarter at the end of November. The big push right now is to get people to stay tuned and subscribe."

The device will retail for about $129 but Kickstarter participants will likely be able to get theirs for about $99.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Layer3 TV hiring in Denver, remains secretive

Layer3 TV opened its new headquarters in LoDo on Sept. 15. It already has about 50 employees, but the company remains in stealth mode.

The company's website touts it as a "next generation cable provider spearheading a new era of home media, combining the best of television, social, and digital life," but details about its technology and business model remain scant.

Layer3 TV CEO Jeff Binder says the main decision behind locating in Colorado was the state's workforce. "Denver has a long history, especially in the cable industry, of having some of the best and brightest talent in the industry," he says. "Modern pay TV has it roots in Denver, and it is here where we hope to continue to evolve and innovate the industry."

The company plans to hire more than 300 people in Denver, with an average wage topping $90,000. It is already hiring positions with a heavy focus on IT positions, from software engineers to Web developers. As of early October, Layer3 was advertising 13 open positions on its website.

The company, which was previously based in Boston, raised $21 million in its Series A financing. The series was led by North Bridge Venture Partners and Evolution Media Growth Partners (a joint venture between private equity firm TPG Growth and Evolution Media Capital). That round of financing also helped the company become one of the Denver Gazelles in conjunction with Denver Startup Week.

The fundraising and potential jobs growth netted the startup $2.9 million in state job growth incentive fund tax credits. In addition, Denver is providing Layer3 TV with business personal property tax credits, as well as workforce development and technical assistance to support the relocation.

"The commitment at both the state and local level to bring startups and entrepreneurs to the Mile High City speaks to the general overall climate for business in Colorado," Binder says. "We are looking forward to playing meaningful a role in this emerging center of innovation."

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Notion prepares to put more sense in remote sensors with runaway Kickstarter campaign

Denver-based Notion's funding campaign for its first product, a small, self-adhesive sensor that can detect eight different things, has been a runaway success -- and it's not even out of Kickstarter yet. The project has raised more than $200,000, quadruple its original goal of $50,000. (The campaign ends in mid-October.)

"We're thrilled with the results to say the least," says Longmont native and co-founder Brett Jurgens. "It's always very exciting as an entrepreneur, putting something out there and getting the reaction and having people pay money for something you created."

The sensors itself can be placed all over the home. It communicates with users' Wi-Fi networks and can send smartphones message via an app. Featuring seven versatile sensors, the device will be compatible with existing home automation and security systems at launch.

"It's a little counterintuitive that there are eight capabilities with only seven sensors, but we have one specialized unique sensor that's capable of a couple of things," says Jurgens. Each sensor can detect acceleration, water leaks, sounds temperature, light, orientation, natural frequency and proximity.

Jurgens explains that a lot of the early success the device is seeing is likely because of the company's efforts to meet the needs of potential customers and its work with Techstars Boulder. "We spent a lot of time with customers interviewing them about home security and automation, do-it-yourself," Jurgens says. "All of the learning and discussions out of that helped us tailor our messaging. More importantly it helped us focus the development of the product. We thought we had a pretty good understanding of what people wanted."

The company plans to start shipping to Kickstarter supporters in April 2015 and to have a broader launch in July 2015. While the funds could help the company launch the product more quickly, Jurgens says they don't want to rush it. "We would rather be meeting our deadlines . . . with a product we know is ingrained with everyone's feedback and is fully tested. We're doing beta testing already."

At present, the company is manufacturing the devices in Colorado. "Our plan is for the initial Kickstarter orders at the very least is to continue to manufacture here," Jurgens says.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.
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